Prevented From Calling Your Produce USDA Certified Organic By Federal Law? Call It "Artisan Naturals" Instead

Stemilt Growers can’t call its produce USDA Certified Organic until they grow without chemicals for three years, but that isn’t stopping them from branding their produce “Artisan Naturals” in the interim. The three year chemical-free transition period is marked by insect infestations, infertile soil, and poor crop quality, which conspire to ravage a farm’s profitability. Stemilt, one of the nation’s largest apple growers, is hoping that consumers will pay a price premium for “natural” produce, which will likely be confused for USDA certified organic produce.

The orchard is in its second year of transition to organic, but the fruit will be sold under Stemilt’s Artisan Naturals label, promoting its naturally farmed history.

“On produce, food safety is an expectation, and I think the organic sector has higher expectations and we understand that, but we think for naturally farmed products, the first expectation is flavor,” said Roger Pepperl, Stemilt director of marketing. “We get a little more because it’s a premium product, and we position it as being a premium product.

“But people assume good things when they hear natural, naturally farmed,” he said.

Stemilt expects only 25% of its apple crop to qualify for organic certification in the next ten years. It is a shame to see the notoriously flimsy USDA certification process treated as a lofty aspirational standard thanks to deceptive marketing efforts like “artisan naturals.”

Almost-organic fruit may still fetch a pretty penny [AP]
(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

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  1. homerjay says:

    I certainly wouldn’t confuse “Artisan Naturals” as organic. Every farm produces natural products.. Some are just more natural than others.

  2. andrewsmash says:

    God, remember when companies didn’t appeal to the dumbest 50% of the population? Yeah, neither do I.

  3. Antediluvian says:

    Carey –

    Your writeup is not misleading at best, and dangerous at worst. It strongly indicates you are misinformed about organics, transition, and conventional farming practices. There is a tremendous amount of misinformation circulating about organic produce and your posting does a great disservice to your readers. It particularly irks me because I love the Consumerist but have seen similarly misleading info posted before. And when I see it in a place I trust (the Consumerist), I feel compelled to respond strongly and passionately. I hope this posting is both as well as enlightening. I know it’s long, but it’s important.

    You wrote, “The three year chemical-free transition period is marked by insect infestations, infertile soil, and poor crop quality, which conspire to ravage a farm’s profitability.”

    During the transition period, farms USE THE SAME TECHNIQUES AND PRODUCTS that they use while growing under organic standards. The source article is wrong: you CAN use the organic-certified products during the transition period. That means YES, you can use organic fertilizer, and YES, you can use organic “bug killer.” What you cannot do is call your produce “organic.”

    No farm is going to transition without a lot of research into what needs to be done to comply, which means they start at least a year — but likely several years — before they intend to transition because yes, the lack of certification is considered costly. But during that preparation time, the farm will be implementing organic techniques to make the transition smoother. Soil fertility? Start planting different cover crops. Animal shelters? Expand the open-air areas and improve fencing. Pest control? Start using non-chemical controls like floating row covers and beneficial-attracting interplantings, and use approved chemical controls such as dormant oil or copper sprays.

    There are organic pesticides and organic fertilizers. There are organic techniques and practices. These techniques MUST be followed during the transition period because otherwise there won’t be any certification.

    Use of the term “organic” requires certification by an independent, approved third party; you cannot use the word unless you’re certified. Some farmers can’t comply (for example, raising lambs without any antibiotics or de-wormers is very difficult; antibiotics are useful for responding to disease, but should not used as prevention or as muscle-building methods). Other farmers don’t want to comply with additional onerous paperwork requirements. Still others can’t afford the certification fees, and others don’t want more government interference in their lives.

    HOWEVER, “organic” originally started out as more than merely a set of standards and practices — it was a philosophy. Once the USDA and large-scale farms got involved, the philosophy aspect of organic is gone. Many smaller producers want that back.

    To that end, they are using terms like “natural” instead of “organic.” Most follow all the organic practices, and add a few more. This could include the philosophical points, such as respecting the land and the animals you’re raising, practicing sustainability (not using products that are not renewable, like lime and certain other minerals when there are renewable alternatives available), and “acting locally,” within your own community.

    I vehemently disagree with your characterization of the use of the term “natural” as a deceptive marketing tool. It is natural, it is valid, and it’s useful. Yes, it means different things to different people, and some people may abuse the term, but from the PI article (as bad as it is), there is no abuse of the term with this grower.

    My background and qualifications to make these statements:
    – Member, Maine Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association (MOFGA)since early 1990’s
    – Member, Northeast Organic Farming Association, Massachusetts Chapter, since 1997
    – Owner, small farm, complying with organic standards and practices but not seeking or desiring certification
    – Attendee, NOFA Annual conferences since 1997, where this very topic has been heavily discussed along with much debate about the national organic standards and what it means to smaller farmers.

    Links:
    [www.nofa.org]
    [www.mofga.org]
    [www.naturallygrown.org]

  4. MandM813 says:

    @Antediluvian:
    I enjoyed reading your point of view, it sounds like you know alot about this topic. Gives me something to think about!

  5. homerjay says:

    @Antediluvian: High-fives a colleague. :)

    I’m a NOFA OLC Member of 4 years.

  6. edogat says:

    Antideluvian’s comments are right on. The article is very misleading and does a disservice to all.

  7. Antediluvian says:

    Dang it, I edited and re-edited to tone down the passion but left in a “not” in the first sentence that shouldn’t be there. It should read,
    “Your writeup is misleading at best and dangerous at worst.”

    To the other readers / posters:
    Thanks guys. I was pretty upset when I read the original piece and was trying to calm down during the writeup. Farming and agriculture is a subject I care deeply about. HomerJay, very cool.

  8. phoenixcat says:

    This resident treehugger also thanks Antedeluvian for the truth! I get so tired of folks green-bashing and not representing reality.

  9. Mom2Talavera says:

    The USDA “organic” “standards” are pathetic.Large corporations, aided and abetted by the USDA and members of Congress have eaten away at the Organic standards.

    Lots of companies Like Eden foods wont even put the USDA logo on their packaging because it doesn’t represent real organic…. how is should be . Lots of company’s standards far exceed that of the USDA. Don’t just go by that green logo on organic foods and research food companies yourself.

  10. BrockBrockman says:

    Yeah, I don’t want to bash a farm too much for not satisfying a flimsy government standard. I don’t find the “artisan natural” label as particularly misleading.

    Have you seen some of the stuff that actually qualifies as “organic”? As Antediluvian noted – “organic” isn’t a checklist, it’s a philosophy.

  11. ancientsociety says:

    You go, Antideluvian!

    I’m about 3/4 thru reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma and it’s a must-read for anyone interested in where their food comes from and the pros and cons of Conventional, Organic-Industrial, Organic-Small, and Pastoral farming practices. It’s really opened up my eyes to how silly and industrially-biased the USDA “organic” certification is. It’s especially disheartening to read how most of the larger organic farms are just as concerned with money and “efficiency” as conventionals are.

  12. JohnnyHighGround says:

    If the company essentially has gone organic — just hasn’t been given the USDA title — what’s wrong with communicating that information to the consumer? That’s information I’d like to have.